A Series: Dark Skies in Ontario’s Greenbelt

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Photo: Northern Lights by Ethan Meleg

 

Part #1 Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

Tips from the Bruce Peninsula

 

Have no fear – the darkness is actually good for you. Darkness plays a vital role in our ecosystem, wildlife lifecycles and even our spirit. There is something truly inspirational about seeing the Northern Lights for the first time, or catching a glimpse of the Milky Way sparkling in the expanse above. 

Growing up in the Greenbelt, I developed a fascination for the night sky – from staring up at the stars to wanting to be one. However, now I live in Toronto and when I look up into the sky I don’t see the twinkling sky that I grew up with.

Which is why I was excited to speak with Elizabeth Thorn, Chair of the Bruce Peninsula’s Dark Sky Committee last week, and discuss the exciting Dark Sky Project they have been running over the past year in Ontario’s Greenbelt.

Carla: As the Chair of the Dark Sky Committee, it is obvious this is something you strongly believe in, why did you want to be involved?

Elizabeth: Well, my family moved to the Northern Bruce Peninsula from downtown Ottawa, and I have always been interested in environmental initiatives. One of the things that intrigued me right away was to learn that the municipality of the Northern Bruce Peninsula is a dark sky municipality. I didn’t really know exactly what that meant, but I was then introduced to the concept of the Biosphere Reserve through a presentation at the Bruce Peninsula National Park. The person that presented was the Chair of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve Association and they invited me to a meeting, given that I had experience in the environmental field when I was in Ottawa. So I went to their board meeting and they invited me to become a board member. We had spent a great deal of time understanding the scientific complexities, and the commitment it would take in the monitoring process. During planning sessions we examined what we wanted to be top of mind when people thought of sustainable living. We called together leaders in conservation and economic development and decided on a demonstration project. We wanted something organic, a sunrise concept that displayed the functions of the biosphere. We came up with many different topics but decided that preserving natural night sky – or dark sky - would be the right demonstration for the Northern Bruce Peninsula community.

Carla: The rest, as they say, is history—but what isn’t history are the continued benefits of having a dark sky. How would you explain the measurement to someone outside of the field? Say, a family member?

Elizabeth: Well I’m not a scientist, but simply put there are instruments that measure light, over time we compare the data and measure the light “pollution” and compare the data to our starting measurements.  What we found was that the Peninsula was actually already pretty dark. Click here to watch a video on measuring light

Carla: What made your committee decide to use youth in this project? I think it’s a great idea, how did you get participants?

Elizabeth: The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association has an extensive history of involving youth in our community. In fact, we are the first UNESCO School in Ontario and there are four pillars to be a UNESCO school, the environment is one of them. So, we have a long-standing history working with youth and also have two teachers on the board that helped to get youth involved. Furthermore, we have youth ecology group that has already engaged youth. We involved the youth from the very beginning, having them take baseline measurements of our sky at night using sky quality meters that measure light. An integral part of the process: we needed those original measurements to track progress – and the students were a part of every step. To find more learning groups in the area, click here. 

Carla: That’s quite inspiring - how many youth were involved?

Elizabeth: We have two to three youth working together tracking measurements at a time, however throughout the project, we have been able to involve about 15 youth in total at different times.  We hope to be able to continue this project with the construction of a dark sky viewing deck.

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Photo: Milky Way by Doug Cunningham

Carla: I read that you introduced an incentive program to help people make changes in their homes that support a dark sky. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Elizabeth:  Sure, we understood that although people care about the dark sky, in these fiscally sensitive times, not everyone could afford to go out and get new light fixtures. So we created a rebate program for those that participated.

Carla: What has been your experience with community reaction so far?

Elizabeth: It has been quite positive. We started with an in-home educational program that let people in the community know why dark skies are so important to our ecosystem and provided a resource to find dark-sky friendly lighting fixtures that was put together by our committee, specifically, Rod Steinacher.

Carla: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Elizabeth: Yes, I want to thank the people that provided the means to start the project. Without funding from the Ontario Trillium FoundationRidgewood Capital Asset Management, and Scotia Private Equity Group, none of this would have been possible.

So for all those that fear the darkness, not to worry, you can still sleep with your nightlight and be eco-friendly by using products that face down and therefore reduce light pollution. It’s also a great way to light the floor and keep monsters hiding under the bed where they belong.

If you’re reading this and want to start a Dark Sky Project in your community but don’t know where to start, contact the Northern Bruce Peninsula Dark Sky Committee, they are ready and willing to share best practices and tested methodologies with those that want to learn.

Look for Part II of our Dark Sky Blog series in the new year, where we will hear more from the Northen Bruce Peninsula’s Dark Sky Committee and dig deeper into the experiences they had with this Greenbelt project. Click here to learn more reasons why dark skies are so important. 

--Carla Balabanowicz, Communications Coordinator

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